There are any number of similarities between being a teacher and being a parent. Both involve an awful lot of behaviour management, dealing with repetitious questions and the constant nagging sense that you’re not quite doing it well enough.
The biggest similarity is that, just when you think you’ve got a handle on what it is you’re supposed to be doing, the goalposts are quickly and arbitrarily moved. In the case of education it’s largely because the current government is pathologically fixated on the 1950s and wants kids to learn solid and useful facts like naming successive kings and queens or quoting the not-at-all racist poetry of our imperial past. You know, the stuff that will help young people make it in the twenty-first century.
With parenting, it’s just because your kids have decided, apropos of nothing, to do a complete 180 on any previously successfully learned behaviours.
The most recent area that we have had our wits oh so hilariously tested is at meal times. One day the boys would happily sit down and eat whatever was put in front of them, the next it was like a protracted hostage negotiation.
Currently every meal starts with the oldest asking what’s for dinner and, unless the answer falls within the new holy trinity of pizza, sausages (but not chipolatas, obviously) and/or fishfingers our answer is followed up with a groan and a loud exclamation of “I don’t like that”. Subsequently we sit, staring at the boys as it takes them the best part of an hour to eat their way through a very modest plate of food like they are a snail on a cabbage leaf.
Now, one of my pet peeves is really fussy eaters – adults who sniff disapprovingly at tasty food because they are unused to it and say things like: “No, I don’t think I’ll like it,” and then refuse to even try it make me want to grip their lapels and yell at them for their utter lack of adventure or desire to try new experiences. To my mind, if you don’t want to eat something because it’s got sodding cumin in it then you might as well just sit at home and wait for death to finish your pitifully limited existence.
Of course this is desperately ungenerous of me. People’s tastes are largely formed by their upbringing. Not everyone’s parents had the ability or money or desire to make food beyond the meat and two veg model.
And this is why the dinner table has become a battleground of late. The wife and I are desperate to expose the boys to as many varied tastes as we can. We are lucky enough to be able to cook most of our meals from scratch and we try to make food from all around the world. We don’t want fussy eaters.
It hasn’t, thus far, worked. In fact, all it’s done has made what should be a bit of family social time a pain in the arse.
The newest technique the boys have hit upon to highlight their displeasure at the lack of regular processed foods is to eat the tiniest amount of food that it is possible to eat and then, as if they have been reading up on Horace Fletcher’s advice to chew food 100 times, will spend an ungodly length of time in actually swallowing the food.
A few nights back the wife was out and so I (being the modern chap I am) made dinner. The youngest didn’t appreciate my efforts. He spent fifteen minutes lifting a spoon with one solitary grain of rice at its tip to his lips.
“Eat your rice, please.”
“I am eating my rice.”
It’s like dealing with a factory union who are working to rule.
“Eat it nicely, please.”
“I am eating it nicely.”
My patience has ceased to hold fast.
“Eat your bloody rice!”
At this point the oldest piped up.
“Why is it bloody rice? Does it have blood on it?”
“Er…no, look you shouldn’t really…”
“Should I eat my bloody rice?”
“You know, maybe don’t say “bloody” in front of your mother.”
“Has she got bloody rice?”
“Who wants ice cream?!”
So here we are, locked in a battle of expectations versus reality whilst trying to not allow every mealtime to turn into some kind of four hour avant-garde stage production that uses a spoon and chickpeas to highlight the soul crushing drudgery of modern life. Every glacial chew representing another unfulfilled dream. Every heavy sigh a punctuation mark of futility.
And apart from threats of increasingly draconian and unrealistic punishments which are becoming more and more surreal in scope, we don’t really know where to go with it.
Maybe we’ll just cave in and starting serving up reformed chicken bits in bread crumbs for every meal whilst we sob into our crushed tapenade of middle-class aspirations.
Until they find out what actually goes into a chicken nugget at which point we are truly fucked.